Under The Streets Of London – Episode 35


“Eliza,” he said the moment she was seated, “I must speak.”

“No, Henry, please . . .”

“There’s no need to be modest any more. I’ve had such a lovely evening. Your parents are so kind.”

“They like you – always have.”

“I flatter myself that perhaps they do.” He seized her hands. “They would look favourably upon me, I think . . .”

“Henry, please.”

The conversation was agony to Eliza. She tried to pull back but he held her fingers tight.

Suddenly he was down on one knee, balanced awkwardly on the small footwell and heedless of the cab driver at the horse’s head.

“Eliza, I’ve liked you for many years as a friend. But these last months in London, you’ve grown so beautiful and so assured, and you are such wonderful company! I swear I am quite hopelessly in love with you and I ask you, my dear, dear girl, to consent to be my wife.”

It was a beautiful speech and Henry looked so handsome, his dark eyes turned pleadingly up towards her. The cab driver was leaning back a little, smiling away at the special moment in his cab.

But to Eliza it felt all wrong. Henry was a dear, but he just didn’t set her heart alight as a certain rough-edged Irishman did, and surely she couldn’t marry him without at least a little of that spark?

She swallowed nervously as he nodded eagerly at her, willing her to say yes. What on earth should she do now?

*  *  *  *

Niall McMenamy sat staring into his mug of tea, the embers of a meagre fire sighing into darkness as night settled around him and Seamus.

His brother sat opposite, frowning over a little notebook, laboriously tracing figures into neat columns, his pencil scratching over the paper as he hunched low to catch the last light of the fire.

It had rained earlier and, despite the season, they’d lit it against the creeping damp. But Seamus kept them on a tight budget and would permit no more coal tonight. Niall should go to bed, really, but he felt restless, discontented.

“Rob Barker,” he muttered furiously.

The police had been round the works earlier asking questions. It seemed that the bounder had set upon poor Violet and then punched her uncle into the bargain.

The local shopkeepers and householders all along the trench kept glaring at the navvies as if every one of them might do the same to their daughters, and it made Niall feel dirty.

Guilty, too. If he’d agreed to meet Violet for that drink she’d wanted, she’d be safe now, but he had been too cross at being denied tea with the intriguing Eliza to pay proper attention.

It had been irresponsible of him. He’d known what Rob Barker was like. He’d even warned him against presuming on the girl, but what good was that ever going to do? A lowlife like Rob Barker didn’t listen to anyone!

Seamus glanced up as he muttered the name again.

“What did you say, lad?”

“Rob Barker,” Niall growled. “That poor girl.”

“You sweet on her after all, Niall?”

“No!”

“All right, all right.” Seamus put up his hands. “Don’t take it out on me, lad.”

“No. Sorry.” Niall put his mug down firmly. “Perhaps it’s best if I take myself off to my bed. You turning in, Seamus?”

Seamus shook his head, put down his notebook.

“I might pop to the George,” he mumbled into his chin.

Niall was unable to believe what he’d heard.

“The George?” Niall looked at him, shocked. “But, Seamus, I thought you were saving?”

“I am, every penny I get.”

“And most I get, too.”

“I didn’t realise you begrudged me them!”

“I don’t,” Niall objected, hurt at his brother’s harsh tone. “You know I don’t.”

“I know.” Seamus rubbed rough hands over his face. “Sorry, lad – I’m not thinking straight.”

Niall softened.

“Are you missing them?”

Seamus looked up and Niall could see his eyes were red at the edges.

“It’s like a bit of me’s missing, lad,” he admitted, “and it’s a bigger bit every day.”

He kicked at the grate suddenly and sparks flew angrily up from the last coals. Niall could see his brother’s pain written clear across his whole body and he marvelled at what love could do to a man.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.